WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — It had been more than 20 years since John Norton hunted after breaking his neck in a diving accident.

But during a hunt for disabled hunters last month at the Marion Reservoir The 71-year-old hunter was smiling.

“I always say this is all great even if I don’t see a deer,” Norton said. “It’s just a pleasure to be out here.”

An accident diving into the shallow end of a pool in 1976 that broke his neck was followed by a long rehabilitation that allowed Norton to walk with difficulties, The Wichita Eagle said.

“I figured I was done hunting. Then I read about these guys. I wouldn’t be hunting without them. Most people don’t understand what this means to me.”

He is referring to a group of volunteers who have hosted the Marion Muzzleloader Deer Hunt for People with Disabilities for 17 years at the lake about 50 miles northeast of Wichita. The event, which hosts eight hunters per season, is sponsored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism; and the Marion Lake Association.

There are about 20 hunts, and even more fishing events, held for disabled participants across Kansas every year.

Disabled veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan helped bring attention to the need for them.

About 40 years ago the Paralyzed Veterans of America was one of the first to understand how recreational programs could help the disabled to enjoy a healthy lifestyle.

“The equipment that’s come down the road in the last few years has allowed a lot of guys to get into the field who couldn’t have otherwise,” said Ernie Butler, Paralyzed Veterans’ director of sports and recreation. He noted there are not a lot of sports now that do not offer adaptive equipment.

Laws and regulations also have changed to make it easier for disabled Kansans to enjoy hunting. Youth and disabled hunters can participate in special early seasons for deer and turkey, and several state parks and wildlife areas have hunting blinds designed for people with disabilities.

Any driver who qualifies for a disabled placard on an automobile qualifies for any special season or opportunities the state offers disabled participants.

Marion hunters are taken directly to hunting blinds by volunteers, but it is up to the hunter whether the volunteer stays with him in the blind. Two-way radios help hunters stay in contact with base camp.

“There’s no way I could do any of this without their help,” Norton said from his blind, where he hunted for the afternoon but did not get a deer. “I couldn’t walk out here and I sure couldn’t load a deer up and get it out of here.”

Torey Hett, a paraplegic who has been a hunter and a volunteer, said what happens at the campground is more important that what happens afield.

“A lot of it is really the camaraderie that makes it special,” he said. “The hunters get a chance to share with other disadvantaged hunters. It gives them a chance to just share a normal life together with all kinds of people. Some really great friendships have been made here. It doesn’t matter if they get a deer or not; they are going to have a great time.”


Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com